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Ben Carson Threatens Third-Party Run; Warnings of Terror Threats in Geneva, Chicago, Toronto; New Details in San Bernardino Shooting Investigation; Focus Turns to Combating Extremist Propaganda On Internet. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 11, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for being here with me today. I'm Pamela Brown.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman has the morning off.

Here we go. Just four days before CNN's big Republican debate, 50 days until the nation's first votes, another Republican threatening to defect and leave his party. We're not talking about Donald Trump this time. We're talking about Ben Carson. Carson is furious over a private meeting this week by GOP leaders where they talked about the possibility of a brokered convention as Carson is falling further in the polls. In New Hampshire, he's now polling at 6 percent. That's down seven points from mid-November. That's according to the polling at WBUR. Donald Trump is still holding onto the top spot with 27 percent.

Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, for more on all of this.

Nia, what a statement coming from Ben Carson's campaign this morning. What more are you hearing about this statement and threat from Carson.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: We just got this statement in our inboxes about two hours ago in. This comes after all those reports that the RNC and the establishment for Republicans are thinking about what it would look like if there was a brokered convention, if Donald Trump or Ben Carson or any of these folks in the lead at this point were to pull this thing off and actually have more delegates or a tie going into the convention. You have Ben Carson who is in some ways in the middle of a freefall. He's lost half of his support in some of the national polls and declining in Iowa as well. Here he is essentially lining himself with Donald Trump, aligning himself with Donald Trump who, of course, is also threatened to bolt the Republican Party if they don't treat him fairly. Carson saying basically he is running because he wants to serve the people, not the powerful, if the powerful made this move, he might join Trump and bolt the party. BOLDUAN: Here's the key line for all of our viewers, Nia. Ben Carson

says this -- the campaign says this, "If this was the beginning, this meeting, of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replace it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party." He talks about they're trying to destroy the party. "I will not sit by and watch a theft," later in the statement. I mean, this is pretty strong stuff.

I think there are also important can text you can offer here right now, Nia. You have new reporting, Carson campaign in crisis and the finger-pointing beginning there. What's going on?

HENDERSON: That's right. He's had a stretch of pretty bad weeks. Last week he gave that speech before the Republican Jewish coalition. Now his aid, Armstrong Williams, who, of course, has been on our air a lot, is really pointing fingers at the campaign saying they don't often prepare Ben Carson enough when he has to give big speeches like this. And the campaign shoots back basically saying, yes, that's true but Armstrong Williams hasn't been very helpful to the campaign either he at times has criticized Ben Carson publicly, even on our air. There is a lot of back and forth between these two separate spheres of the campaign. One is more of the informal campaign. Armstrong Williams does not have a formal role in the campaign, but he's very much like the Carson whisperer. He's very close to Ben Carson. He talks to him several times a day there is this conflicted between this campaign who has responsibilities and Armstrong Williams, who has more informal. They say it's a work in progress. They feel like they're all on the same team and focusing on Iowa, wanting to have at least a top-three finish out of that important caucus come February.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Even before that, getting them all on the same page and the same script ahead of the CNN debate, a very important one on foreign policy and national security, which was a big part of that conversation of a weakness of Ben Carson. That will be interesting.

Nia, great to see you. Thank you.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Kate.

[11:05:03] BOLDUAN: So, Ben Carson's new threat likely to start a whole lot of hand-wringing among Republican officials.

Let's discuss the impact. Joining me is Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons; as well as Doug Heye, former communications director at the RNC, at the Republican National Committee.

Doug, first to you.

What is going on here? Give me the inside scoop of what you think was going on in that meeting. And also what do you think of this threat from Ben Carson that he could defect? Does that make a brokered convention more or less likely?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One, I don't think there's any realistic chance in December there's going to be in July a brokered convention. It's something that gets talked about as a political fantasy and a lot of intrigue. The reality is, the winner of the Iowa caucus, win big on Super Tuesday is the candidate who will ultimately be your nominee. Think a brokered convention is not very likely. If you're Ben Carson, you've had a string of weeks where you've not been able to make any real news, you've fallen in the polls. When you've been out there speaking, you've really shown a lack of preparation, not only for the event but the presidency. Not being able to pronounce Hamas if you're talking to the Republican Jewish coalition. Apparently he needs to make news and this is how they're doing so.

BOLDUAN: But when those meetings happened, and there was a conversation about needing to put some plans in place for all contingencies for what would happen if a broker the convention does happen. Jamal, does Ben Carson have a point? He says this could be the beginnings of a plan to subvert the will of the voters.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Listen, if you're a Republican National Committee person or a part of the Republican establishment, what's going on in this primary campaign has to scare the bejeezus out of you because --


BOLDUAN: A technical term.

SIMMONS: Exactly. You could end up with a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz who would end up losing you 40 states in the national election, will kill you in the Senate, hurt you in the House, and you can't have it. If you end up having a convention that's a brokered convention, it would be an unmitigated disaster because you would spend a week of national television watching them fight themselves in this huge battle on national television. I'm curious to see how Republicans get themselves out of this. It's going to be a fun winter and spring.

BOLDUAN: It's already been a fun summer and fall. We'll definitely see.

Doug, let me get your take on this one. I'm calling it today a brewing food fight between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It seemed to have started when "The New York Times" leak audio of Cruz. Folks were saying slamming. But Cruz saying this about Donald Trump and Ben Carson at a private fundraiser. Listen, and then we'll talk about it afterwards.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Both of them, I like and respect both Donald and Ben. I do not believe either one of them is going to be our nominee. Their campaigns have a natural arc. Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button? I think as people figure out who they are, I believe gravity will bring both of those campaigns down.


BOLDUAN: So Ted Cruz saying behind closed doors he believes he has -- in a nutshell he thinks he has better judgment than other candidates. Should anyone be surprised he said that, though?

HEYE: I don't think so. If you look at what he said, he wasn't making specific criticism of this policy or that policy. Obviously it's hard to do with Trump because he doesn't make many specific policies but making political predictions and analysis. I think a lot of people agree likely that's what's going to happen with Trump. That's what's already happened with Carson. That's the challenge with all these candidates, timing that arc, if it happens. Donald Trump has had an amazing ability to defy the laws of political gravity thus far.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this one, for our viewers, Trump has tweeted back basically saying, come on, because I basically can't wait to counter-punch you, Cruz, if you come at me. He waits to be counter- punched and then hits, oh, so hard back.

Jamal, I want to ask you ahead of the CNN debate. There's a new CBS poll which shows most Americans ban Muslims coming into the country. A majority of Republicans support a temporary ban, 54 percent. If that is the case, how do you think all the candidates not named Trump who have spoken out against that proposal, how do they handle that issue if it comes up in the debate?

SIMMONS: This is one of the greatest challenges because Donald Trump is tapping into the latent fear, the things he talks about in a beer in the corner, they don't say out loud, he's saying them out loud and giving people a voice to get those fears out on the table. He's pulling the Republican Party further and further to the right and not just to the right in a constructive conservative way my friend, Doug, here likes to espouse but into the dark, fearful right where we talk about things we don't to want talk about in public. I think the danger is they have to find some way -- other candidates have to find a way to address what Trump is stirring up without losing their credibility in the halls of Washington, Wall Street, in Hollywood, and Main Street America, which doesn't buy a lot of what Trump is selling.

[11:10:20] BOLDUAN: The frustration at the establishment. That is definitely where that support is amongst the Trump supporters and the base. That's something they need to respond to.

Thanks, guys. Happy Friday. Thank you.

SIMMONS: Great to see you.

BOLDUAN: As we've been discussing, all Republican candidates are set to face off once again, the last chance this year to go head to head on the debate stage. The last presidential debate of 2015, next Tuesday, December 15th, right here on CNN.

Ahead for us, we have breaking news coming in. Word of an explosion and gunshots near foreign embassies in Afghanistan. We'll take you there live to try to get an update.

Plus, a terror cell on the run right now. Apparently plotted attacks in Chicago, Toronto, also. This, as the U.S. sends a warning to its citizens. And a former cop convicted by an all-white jury for raping 13 black

women. See what happened when he heard the verdict read.


[11:15:22] BOLDUAN: We are following breaking news out of Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for what they are calling a suicide stack in Kabul. This is some of the first video we're just getting from the scene. A source tells us it was a car bomb that hit the Spanish embassy. They say most of the embassy staff are in a safe place but right now officials are trying to account for all personnel. We'll track that throughout the hour.

Let's move to Geneva, Switzerland, where an intercept made by U.S. Intelligence has started a citywide terror alert as the hunt continues for the suspects in the Paris terror attacks. A source tells CNN communications were picked up between extremists linked to ISIS who were talking about attacks on Geneva, Chicago and Toronto. A manhunt is under way for six suspects. U.S. officials warn Americans in Switzerland to be extra vigilant.

Right now, I want to bring in CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, for more on this. She's a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security.

Juliette, thank you for coming in.

The intercepts we're talking about, they discussed the idea of attacking Geneva, Toronto and Chicago. Why those three cities, do you think?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think there would be no consistency between the three cities unless they have people in those cities waiting for some sort of notification or some trigger to move forward. I suspect based on your -- everyone's excellent reporting at CNN that the intelligence about Geneva was stronger, more specific than it was about the other cities because you're simply not hearing about that kind of reaction from Toronto or Chicago at this stage.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the focus of the investigation for suspects or anyone linked to these attacks has really been in France as well as in Belgium. Switzerland now. Is Switzerland also a big concern for terrorist activity? Where is the connection here?

KAYYEM: Switzerland has a lot of international targets. In Geneva, for example, you have U.N. facilities, actually places people don't think about, the international Olympic committee is in Switzerland, these sorts of multinational organizations that represent, at least to ISIS the enemy overall. To be able to target one of them would be a win in their mind. Switzerland, of course, we've been talking about this the last couple of weeks, the geography of Europe being such that borders are just very porous and the capability of getting to a place like Switzerland, which has quite a strong intelligence effort that is clearly aligned with U.S., and Interpol, the overall intelligence agency, means it views itself as a target and is looking out for these guys.

BOLDUAN: This seems to be the example of what is supposed to happen to share the intelligence to stop --

KAYYEM: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- these terror attacks before they happen.

Juliette, thank you very much.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Ahead for us, he bought the rifles used to unleash the massacre in California. His mother, though, says he's a good person. New details on the friend of a terrorist as investigators search the lake near the attack site for key evidence.

Plus, more on our news we just got in. Ben Carson threatening to leave the Republican Party over a secret meeting by GOP leaders. Next, we'll speak to one of the top officials at the Republican National Committee who hosted that meeting. Republican National Committee responds live, next.


[11:23:16] BOLDUAN: Investigators this morning are back in the water, searching for new clues in the San Bernardino massacre. The FBI is now diving into a small lake a few miles from the Inland Regional Center, the site of the attack. Officials tell CNN the terrorists may have visited the lake right before carrying out their deadly plot. One of the items police are hoping to find, a hard drive that had been removed from the couples computer. Plus, new details on the long-time friend and neighbor of Syed Farook, Enrique Marquez. Investigators now uncovering possibly ties between the two friends and a terror group.

Let's get to CNN's Ana Cabrera on the ground there in San Bernardino for much more.

Ana, what is going on at that lake? What are you seeing there? What are you hearing from investigators?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll let you take a look over my shoulder here. You can see FBI agents have arrived on scene. It's much earlier on the West coast. They just arrived within the hour and are preparing to go in the water. We know several divers were in yesterday for a few hours, looking for evidence, we're told, that could be connected to this couple who were involved in the San Bernardino attacks. Now, investigators say they're following a couple of leads they received that put the shooters in this park near the lake on the day of the shooting. They aren't saying what specific evidence they're hoping to find, only they'll take anything they believe may be connected to the investigation. As you pointed out, that hard drive from the couple's computer. Presumably that's something they're looking for. Another new development, we found out Farook could have ties to the terror cell busted in California here in 2012. A law enforcement official telling CNN that Farook was in the same social circle as this recruiter of that terror cell. That terror cell was arrested and they have been convicted of trying to go overseas to Afghanistan to blow up a U.S. military base and work with Taliban or al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Now, 2012 is the same year Farook's friend, Enrique Marquez, tells investigators he and Farook were planning a terror plot here in the U.S. He is the friend who purchased two of the A.R.-15 rifles used in the terror attack here in San Bernardino. He is apparently cooperating with investigators, we're told. He's not been charged with any crimes just yet -- Kate?

[11:25:41] BOLDUAN: Ana, thank you so much, for the latest. We'll keep a close eye on that lake. Investigators are preparing to head back into the water. We appreciate it.

In light of what you're hearing from Ana, and in light of what more we're learning about the San Bernardino terrorists, specifically, their online communications about jihad, the focus turns once again to how to combat extremist propaganda on the Internet. Is the United Stats doing enough to fight it?

By next guest is the man who would know. Ambassador Alberto Fernandez ran the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. This is the office created by the Obama administration to counter terror groups online. He's also the vice president of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Ambassador, thank you for your time.


BOLDUAN: As we focus once again on this online propaganda, it reminded me of what you said in a recent interview. You said, since leaving your post with the administration this, that "there is a fantasy in Washington that somehow if you put magical or pixie dust on a problem, it will go away." Why is the Obama administration failing at this point winning the war against groups like ISIS, from your perspective?

FERNANDEZ: I don't think you can different shat the challenges of the Obama administration from its challenges in fighting ISIS in other fields. It's all connected. One of the reasons ISIS is so powerful is that you have a powerful, seductive message, which is connected to a reality or perception of reality on the ground. So, you can't divorce counterpropaganda or counter narrative from the real world. ISIS boasts its threats and all of that are nested in a reality or at least a perception of reality in the Middle East.

BOLDUAN: But this is why this office was created, to counter that perception of reality, to counter that draw online. Are you saying you didn't get the support you needed to effectively take it on?

FERNANDEZ: The office was a small office. It was established before the rise of ISIS. It was to focus on al Qaeda. No, it never had the resources it needed. It was basically created at a time when the administration was thinking -- it was its "mission accomplished" moment. It was the period between the death of bin Laden and the fall of Mosul when the administration thought the threat was somewhat dissipating, this was the junior varsity team face. Yes, the resources were never there. Indeed, the U.S. -- and not just the U.S., everyone together who's fighting this counter-is propaganda battle is still outnumbered today by ISIS in this very narrow space where people are radicalized.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. We're talking about, what, tens of thousands of Twitter accounts and 10 to 15 people in that office, even if it's grown, that's still not enough. That shows the challenge that you faced in your post. And you did go head-to-head, put out a video, mocking is. We're showing to our viewers. It was very graphic. It went viral. Also faced some criticism inside and outside the administration for going maybe too far with its graphic imagery. If that didn't work, Ambassador, what have you learned since? What is going to work? What is going to defeat the ISIS presence online because it is so important?

FERNANDEZ: There are certain things. First of all, there's no substitute for a military victory. There's no substitute for puncturing the balloon ISIS presented of this ever victorious, all- powerful entity that seeks to rule the world. That's number one. Number two, as I said, we're still outnumbered on social media.


BOLDUAN: How many people do you think the government could -- would need to take them on?

FERNANDEZ: You mean on social media?


FERNANDEZ: You have to start somewhere. If you're talking about 40,000 Twitter handles, 3,000 or 4,000, the most active ones, at the least you need to match that, let alone the question of messaging. The U.S. government has not been able to do that. But it's not just the U.S. government. If you look at all other governments and entities who have tried to do this, they also have failed. It's -- failure is shared among a wide range of organizations.

BOLDUAN: You can talk about military strategy and that's obviously a huge focus in taking on -- taking on ISIS. I would argue this is equally an important front in trying --